The Rewards of Cowboying - Part 4
Another of the real rewards of cowboying is working outdoors in the grandeur of nature. Of course it’s not always good weather and the bad must be taken with the good, but there is something to be said about the forces of nature, and the affect they have on us. The cowboy sees so much more up close and personal- in nature then most people experience. Mother Nature has so many things to show, so many treasures and secrets and beauties that are only experienced by people who are constantly under her influence. People who work inside are not able to experience or learn from her, very little at most. But the cowboy becomes a child of nature- constantly taught and influenced by her from sun to sun, and even in the night as well. The constant influence of nature seeps into the cowboy from every angle- above, beneath- from the side. He becomes attuned to her language, her moods, her magic and majesty. He understands and perceives countless treasures of wisdom that most people are completely unaware of. The earth speaks. Water speaks. Animals all speak. The sky speaks. The cowboy learns their language and is a constant student under tutelage.
Waddy Mitchell expressed this in Prose when he said, - “Most folks commute to their work, the cowboy also commutes to his, but while he is commuting he also communes, and that makes all the difference.”
I packed a calf one afternoon across my lap as I rode my horse up a trail to a place where a large meadow was located. All the cattle were grazing and also trying to find their calves which had gotten separated from their mother’s in the course of the cattle drive that day. This calf in my lap sure needed to find his mother. He was weak and needed supper. I stopped my horse, Ranger at the edge of the meadow and lowered the calf to the ground, holding his front legs in my hands thill his hind legs touched down, then I released hm. He immediately started to bawl for mamma, and walked out into the meadow in search for her. There were about 200 head of mother cows, and probably at least a third of them were searching for their calves the noise of bawling cows and calves was pretty noisy. I put Ranger on a long line to graze and I sat down in the grass. The Boss had told me to stay with the cattle till near dark and make sure all the cows and calves “mothered up” or got together and didn’t wander off. So I sat and watched and listened.
It was at this particular time I noticed for the first time the subtle but definite difference in the tone and sound of each individual cow’s voice, and also the calves. Before that I thought all cows sounded the same. NOT so. I was able to recognize where a calf was that belonged to a certain cow by listening to the calls. I could see them moving toward each other, sometimes they were clear across the meadow from each other. I was amazed to find out the individual differences in their voices just like human voices. This “mother up” process went on for some time.
Finally, toward sundown- all the pairs were together- and they were happily grazing and the calves nursing, some were full and were playing with each other, romping around in the grass, chasing each other, having fun. It was peaceful- and quiet. The birds were settling down for the night too, they were talking a little, but not much. The colors in the sunset were beautiful and pleasing to look at. Things had changed from a noisy time of concern for the cattle to a quiet peaceful contented time. My calf I had carried on my horse was back with his mother and he was happy. My horse grazed contentedly also. I reclined in the cool grass. The dust and heat of the day was gone. The air was sweet with the smells of the pines, the aspens, the grass, the cattle, and the wild flowers. Everything was at peace. It felt very good to be there. Far from the noise and hurriedness of civilized life.
Civilized that’s an interesting term. At that place in the hills that evening it was very civil, all was harmony and in cooperation. Much different than the sirens and ringin’ phones and blaring TV’s and the depressing conditions pronounced on the evening news. It was dusk now, I rolled up my mcarty, and mounted my good horse. We ambled down the trail in the fading light, clip clop clip clop- I felt content and peaceful inside. Nature had played her evening hymn. I arrived at camp and unsaddled Ranger and turned him in with the other horses, then sat down to a delicious Dutch oven supper cooked up by the Boss and his daughters. Deep sleep would be my reward for another full sunup to sundown cowboy day. I had received another rich reward that money could not buy.
There are many other rewards of cowboying I have not mentioned or only touched on. I loved the camaraderie I shared with the people I worked with and worked for. You have to depend on others at times, for their assistance and help, and when they do their part you are so grateful. They can “save your bacon” many times. That of course is not peculiar to cowboy life alone- but when you’re out in the wild a long ways from nowhere and you need help, and that person shows up when they are supposed to, it raises your spirits high. A friend in need is a friend indeed and I know that feeling from both ends of it. But even better is needing that friend and he shows up when you least expected. How great that is.
I also loved gathering cattle off the land, the hills and mountains and forming a herd and then trailing those cattle somewhere. That’s the iconic essence of cowboying and it’s rewarding. Hard, long, dangerous, hot, cold, tiring, all of the above yes, but also exciting, thrilling, fun, adventurous, and fulfilling. In Montana on the LOTT Ranch we rounded up and trailed cattle to the summer range which took almost three weeks. We moved herds anywhere from 15 to 50 miles, or more and some of those combined herds from two or three ranches numbered 2000 or more. We slept on the ground at night, spent most of each day in the saddle, cooked and ate on the trail- we cowboyed. I loved it and felt lucky to be there. There’s something special about trailing a big herd of cattle day after day on a long trail to a chosen destination. It’s another real reward of cowboy life. And I’ve got to say, to do that in the big big sky country of Montana was an amazing beautiful place of almost endless amazing vistas and distances. Charlie Russell captured the essence of it, but I saw places so beautiful that Russell never even came close to on canvas - and that's saying something. It was a HUGE reward of the cowboy life, and I feel humbly grateful that I was privileged to be there and do my part. One last item I will mention that was rewarding, for me at least, was packing salt.
Cattle go through a lot of salt from spring to late fall. The blocks of salt are heavy, weighing about 50 pounds apiece. We would usually load a pack horse with four blocks, two per side. The salt also contained minerals important to the health of the cattle. The Boss went with us on the first salt run, showing us where he wanted the salt located in the hills and canyons, and where we were to scatter the salt later in areas not yet grazed.
I enjoyed the job of scattering salt because it usually was a quiet peaceful ride with time to think, plan, and just enjoy the beauty of the country. Sometimes we would see elk, deer, moose, antelope, coyotes, and other wild creatures, which was always a bonus. Scattering the salt also gave the wild game easier and more frequent access to salt, which they also must have.
I liked saddling the packhorses and loading the salt, then riding for long distances with these loads. It’s a simple task, nothing very hard or complicated about it, and it’s quiet, the going is a slow pleasant pace over hill and dale. When the salt is all scattered and you’re heading back to camp it’s nice to see the packs are empty and the job is done. It’s a satisfying feeling to give to animals a necessary nutrients for their well-being, and to do it in a natural quiet way, animal to animal so to speak, the horses bring the salt, the cows want the salt and lick the salt till it’s all gone. Why is such a simple thing rewarding and satisfying? I’m not sure but I do know that when men and animals serve each other, help each other in the pleasant surroundings of nature that it fills an inner part of both of them, somehow.
Well, OK, one more. Eating is more in cowboy life than in regular life. You’re about three times as hungry, and the food tastes three times better. And it seems you need about three times as much, and you lose weight.
Breakfast in the cabin at the Quarter Circle J Six cow camp on the fall roundup was always extra good. Fried spuds and onions, hot cakes, eggs and sausage gravy and hot tang. SHAZAM! It was warm and cozy inside, crowded and busy. Everybody getting dressed, boots, spurs, and chaps on. The Boss is the cook. Fill our plates. Plenty of butter and syrup on the hot cakes, plenty of everything. Frosty and cold outside, the horses are caught and saddled- ready to go- breakfast over, we’re burning daylight- let’s go. Another reward of cowboyin’.